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Affirmative action for haredim bill in public sector defeated in Knesset
By JEREMY SHARON
11/12/2013
Bill claimed that the haredi community, like other sectors of the population, suffers from discrimination.
 
A bill proposed by United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush to guarantee in law equal representation for haredim in the public sector was defeated in a preliminary hearing in the Knesset on Wednesday after a fierce debate in the plenum.

The proposed law – defeated by a vote of 40-24 – would have provided for affirmative action for haredim in appointments to positions in all government offices and the civil service, in order to ease the path for haredim to enter the workforce specifically in the realm of public service.

The explanation for the bill claimed that the haredi community, like other sectors of the population, suffers from discrimination and difficulties in integrating into the workforce in general and the public sector in particular.

In presenting the bill to the Knesset plenum, Porush said by way of example that dozens of young haredim who had received law degrees in recent years experienced significant problems in being accepted for positions in the State Attorney’s Office, even though they had the appropriate qualifications.

Citing a report from the Economy Ministry, Porush also claimed that haredi job-seekers with academic qualifications received less requests for interviews than the applicants from the non-haredi public.

He also noted that affirmative action for other minorities such as Ethiopians and Druse was rooted in legislation and said a similar law for haredim would be an important step in getting the population into the labor market.

“I think this bill will show if we really do want to integrate those haredim who have decided that they are not able to continue to study Torah and want to integrate into the workforce, [and if there is] a real will to help those haredim, or whether this whole issue... is just a way to create arguments with the haredi population.”

But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni took to the podium to oppose the bill, and denied that there is any need for such a proposal or that any discrimination against haredim exists.

“Yes, the haredi community is not represented enough in the labor market,” she noted.

“[But] this stems from, among other reasons, your unwillingness to integrate into Israeli life.

You are not negatively discriminated against but rather refuse to accept the yoke of the state and the law,” she told the haredi MKs present in the plenum.

“Haredim are a minority, but not a minority that is discriminated against. There is no factual evidence that attributes the kind of discrimination faced by the Ethiopian, Arab or even disabled communities to the haredi population. There is no basis for the claim of discrimination as a group,” Livni continued.

“Instead of coming up with claims, I recommend you work toward integration into society,” she advised.

Porush did not take kindly to Livni’s scolding and said she should apply her resolve at bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians to helping reconcile “the poles” in Israeli society.

Male haredi employment is significantly below that of the non-haredi public.

Data published by the Bank of Israel in 2012 showed male haredi employment at 45.6 percent and female haredi employment at 61.2%, compared to a national average of 77.7% for male employment and 66.3% for women.

Haredi employment trends are believed to be on the increase though, as is the number of haredim entering higher education.

Porush noted during his speech from the Knesset podium that some 7,000 haredim are currently studying in higher education courses, and added that approximately 11,000 haredim had completed professional courses “in recent years.”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Haim Zicherman, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute for its Project on Religion and State, said that discrimination does indeed exist against haredim in the workplace.

He explained that employers are often concerned about what will be demanded from them by haredi employees, and worry about having to implement gender-separate work areas, or providing for the kashrut needs of their haredi workers in the workplace.

Zicherman noted that very few members of the ultra-Orthodox community work currently in the civil service and said that affirmative action for haredim would be a positive step in integrating them into the workforce.
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